South Florida football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Bulls, best players and season prediction.
Bulls on parade.
With his future at South Florida hanging in the balance, head coach Willie Taggart delivered in the nick of time, changing the direction of his career and his program.
After four consecutive losing seasons, two with Taggart at the controls, the Bulls rose up and began playing to their potential in 2015. USF shook off a slow start to finish the regular season 7-1, while darn near leapfrogging Temple in the East Division race. True, the campaign ended on a sour note, a 45-35 Miami Beach Bowl loss to Western Kentucky, but the hot finish could still wind up being the turning point this program was desperately seeking.
Now that the pressure is off and the wind’s at their back, the Bulls can go about the business of becoming one of the more upwardly mobile Group of Five squads.
South Florida boasts many of the ingredients of a squad with a bright future—fertile backyard recruiting territory, quality young coach and good facilities that could become much better if an on-campus stadium gets the green light in the coming years. Even the Big 12 might be bullish on the Bulls if the conference elects to expand its footprint to the Sunshine State.
Now it’s up to Taggart to make sure his kids avoid complacency, while climbing closer to being to the East what Houston currently is out West.
If South Florida stumbles in 2016, it will not be a personnel issue. Too many key parts return for that to happen. The offense welcomes back the exciting backfield pair of QB Quinton Flowers and RB Marlon Mack, along with a receiving ensemble that became much deeper in the offseason. It’s the O-line, which lost three starters and assistant Danny Hope, which warrants the most scrutiny.
The D will also be an asset, even without the support of a handful of veteran linemen and P Mattias Ciabatti, who had a penchant for controlling field position. There’s an all-league contender at every level, namely NT Bruce Hector, LB Auggie Sanchez and CB Deatrick Nichols, and enough athleticism to halt most American teams. One of the unproven underclassmen, though, must take ownership of consistently cranking up heat from the flanks.
South Florida has momentum and a hint of confidence for the first time since the beginning of this decade. Now what? For 2015 to be more than just an anomaly that saved jobs for a few more years, the Bulls must capitalize by taking the next step and winning an East Division that’s there for the taking.
What You Need to Know About the South Florida Offense
At long last, the Bull offense turned the corner in 2015 after three straight seasons of averaging no more than 21 points per game. It was the difference that helped propel the program from subpar to American contender. And now that the backfield of QB Quinton Flowers and RB Marlon Mack, as well as an exciting collection of receivers, returns, first-year co-coordinators T.J. Weist and Darren Hiller, believe the ingredients are in place for an even more potent and balanced attack in 2016.
While Weist will also direct the wideouts, a group adding NC State transfer Marquez Valdes-Scantling to Rodney Adams, Hiller faces the tougher challenge of rebuilding the O-line. USF will miss the consistency and veteran leadership of Mak Djulbegovic, Brynjar Gudmundsson and especially Thor Jozwiak.
Sophomore Michael Galati is bucking to win the center job, while Billy Atterbury has a head start on touted Arizona Western transfer Glen Bethel in the battle to fill right tackle opening.
Biggest Key To The South Florida Offense
Targets o’plenty. Last season, the Bulls featured a No. 1 receiver, Rodney Adams, and a bunch of middling, little-used targets. This fall, though, South Florida boasts a legitimate corps that’s going to help Quinton Flowers develop into a more complete quarterback. NC State transfer Marquez Valdes-Scantling will create major matchup problems from ‘X’, while former Kentucky transfer A.J. Legree is performing like a different player than when he arrived in 2015. And with Valdes-Scantling and Legree commanding more attention on the outside, it’ll make Adams more dangerous out of the slot.
What You Need to Know About the South Florida Defense
It wasn’t just the offense that flipped the script in 2015. The D did as well, improving in just about every statistical category. However, a lot of the credit went to Tom Allen, who was so good in his lone year in Tampa that he used it as a launching point to the Big Ten.
To fill Allen’s old job, the Bulls promoted Raymond Woodie, who’ll maintain a 4-2-5 alignment and many of the same attacking philosophies that worked last fall. Woodie welcomes back most of the personnel that yielded just 23 points per game. Bruce Hector and Deadrin Senat are gap-busting tackles. Nigel Harris and Auggie Sanchez man the second level. And the secondary is a nice mix of stars, like CB Deatrick Nichols, and rising safeties Jaymon Thomas and Tajee Fullwood.
Plus, CB Johnny Ward should return from a toe injury this summer, and senior Lamar Robbins has been reinstated following last year’s suspension. It’s on the edge where South Florida has a ton to prove. The D-end spot was whacked by graduation, and current two-deepers Kirk Livingstone, Vincent Jackson, LaDarrius Jackson and Juwan Brown combined for just one tackle in 2015.
Biggest Key To The South Florida Defense
New coordinator, same approach. After one successful season leading the Bull defense, coordinator Tom Allen up and left for the same job on Kevin Wilson’s Indiana staff. Willie Taggart quickly promoted Raymond Woodie, who won’t mess too much with the attacking 4-2-5 system that produced dividends in 2015. The 2016 edition of the Bulls will feature some new faces, particularly up front, but Woodie is aiming to coach up his kids and then turn them loose, allowing them to maximize their range and speed.
South Florida Will Be Far Better If …
third-down conversions aren’t such a rarity. True, the Bulls engineered a quantum leap on offense in 2015, almost doubling their average points per game. Imagine what this unit might have done had it not ranked 89th nationally on third downs. Even worse, South Florida clicked just 20% of the time in their losses a year ago, unable to mount or extend drives versus Florida State, Memphis, Navy or Western Kentucky in the Miami Beach Bowl defeat.
Best Offensive Player
Junior RB Marlon Mack. Mack will go down a year or two from now as the steadiest offensive player in Bull history. He’s been a reliable workhorse from the moment he stepped foot on campus, working between the tackles and powering through defenders for additional. The consistency of Mack, who rushed for at least 100 yards in all but three of the games he played in 2015, allowed young QB Quinton Flowers to develop incrementally, without having to overextend himself in the early stages of his career.
Best Defensive Player
Junior CB Deatrick Nichols. Every coach loves versatile and dynamic players. Players like Nichols, for instance. The junior will do a little bit of everything for the South Florida D, using his drive and his athleticism to impact a game in myriad different. Nichols is the Bulls’ best pass defender, yet the coaching staff also likes to turn him loose on opposing backfields. He’s a classic tempo-changer, who makes his teammates better and is rarely too far from the action.
Key Players to a Successful Season
The offensive linemen. After finally ramping up the offense in 2015, South Florida has its closest thing to a complete team in years. But the unit will need a revamped O-line to deliver to avoid regressing this fall. Three starters are gone from a durable group that went from wire-to-wire a year ago. LT Kofi Amichia and RG Dominique Threat are the new graybeards, and rookie RT Billy Atterbury impressed in the spring, but questionable depth and talent are concerns as USF looks to unleash its skill guys in 2016.
The Season Will Be a Success If …
the Bulls win 10—and the East Division of the American Athletic Conference. Why not? South Florida has momentum and as much talent as anyone in the division. Plus, it’s conceivable that the Bulls will be favored—or no worse than a slight underdog—in all but the Sept. 24 visit from Florida State. If USF can gel on both lines in early games with Towson and Northern Illinois, it has enough playmakers away from the line to reach double-digit wins for the first time in program history.
Oct. 1 at Cincinnati. The Bulls obliterated the Bearcats last November, 65-27, in an epic statement of the program’s potential. If South Florida can again handle a Cincy team that’s certain to be motivated, it’ll jump out to an early and important lead in the East Division race. There are other contenders with which to be dealt, including defending champ Temple, but disposing of the Bearcats at Nippert Stadium would be a huge step toward setting the tone in one half of the American
2015 Fun Stats
– First-half scoring: South Florida 219 – Opponents 94
– Rushing yards per game: South Florida 246.5 – Opponents 141.4
– Sacks: South Florida 34 – Opponents 21